A PHILLIP Island engineer renowned for transforming lives with his revolutionary 3D printed hands is helping to keep Bass Coast Health staff as safe as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mat Bowtell is making face shields for the health service’s doctors and nurses who will be on the frontline of treating patients infected with the virus.
His registered charity, Free 3D Hands, operates from Cowes and typically provides 3D printed hands and assistive devices to people around the world – for free.
With a significant shortage of crucial personal protective equipment in Australia – including masks, gowns, gloves and face shields – Mr Bowtell is applying his expertise to help alleviate the shortfall.
“We now have 19 3D printers to manufacture face shields,” he said.
“These will be provided for free in line with our charity constitution, as additional personal protective equipment for those who must still continue to work in areas such as aged care, hospitals, clinics and emergency services.”
Mr Bowtell aims to make 2000 face shields over the next 30 to 40 days, with the possibility of making a further 2000.
The shields will help ensure the people who are caring for the community have a lesser chance of falling ill by reducing their risk of exposure to the virus.
He’s been working at least 15 hours every day transforming his workshop.
“In this COVID-19 pandemic, I do not believe that hospitals serving the community in this time of need should have to pay for additional personal protective equipment to keep staff healthy,” he said.
To help reduce the costs of this initiative, Free 3D Hands is seeking donations that will go directly towards helping the cause.
Mr Bowtell has taken a risk by using $14,000 of his own savings, hoping enough funds can be raised for him to be reimbursed.
“This has enabled us to get the process started and secure the raw materials from local suppliers as supply lines may soon be disrupted if Australia goes into further lockdown,” he said.
“If we exceed our funding target, which covers materials and manufacturing costs, we will use these funds to employ people from our local community who have been stood down from their jobs as a result of COVID-19, to print and package the face shields.
“This means we could operate our 3D printers over multiple shifts to increase our output and get them into the community quicker.
“If we continue to raise funds over and above our target, we can continue making face shields and employ more community members if the pandemic continues over an extended period.”
Mr Bowtell has spoken with the Therapeutic Goods Administration in Australia to confirm it is permissible to provide face shields for clinical environments as non-sterile personal protective equipment.
“We have already manufactured over 150 units which are individually packed and held in a quarantine area for 72 hours before distribution,” he said.
“This is the current advice on minimising the risk of spreading COVID-19, which can survive for up to three days on plastic surfaces.”
BCH infection control clinical nurse consultant Nicky Baker received approximately 100 face shields from Mr Bowtell last Monday.
“The big fear for all the health services at the moment is getting enough personal protective equipment,” she said.
“For us, thanks to Mat, we’re hoping to be able to give all the clinicians one face shield of their own so that gives some reassurance that they will have a face shield if stocks run low.”
To donate, please go to www.free3dhands.org/.
Bass MLA Jordan Crugnale introduced Mr Bowtell to BCH, recognising the opportunity for a positive working relationship.
Until now, Mr Bowtell has been known for providing functional 3D printed hands and assistive devices to people all over the globe, and has been recognised as the 2018 VIC Local Hero in the Australian of the Year Awards, receiving the Points of Light Award from the Queen and most recently the Pride of Australia Medal.
After being made redundant from his job as an engineer with car manufacturer Toyota, he spent his redundancy payout to become a full-time volunteer for the two years it took him to formalise Free 3D Hands as a charity.
He has also made all of his designs freely available online, with thousands of people around the world benefiting from his work.
“If I were to sell one of my devices for $10, then it would only be worth $10. But when you provide them for free, with no expectation of reward, then they become priceless,” Mr Bowtell said.
Last month, Mr Bowtell also started a campaign called ‘This is how we roll!’, providing free rolls of toilet paper to families who have completely run out.
Those in the community who have a roll to spare can drop them off into the red ‘drop off bin’, and those who need one can take from the green ‘good to go!’ bin outside the Free 3D Hands factory at Factory 5, 26 The Concourse, Cowes.
Rolls are quarantined in a yellow bin for three days before being put into the green bin.
“It is an honesty-based system and so far it has been working, having received even more rolls than have been taken, with about 40 factory wrapped rolls still available to those who need them,” Mr Bowtell said.
“There is only one rule: take only one roll at a time and come back when you need another.”